Third writing assignment: comparison

Due date: 14 Dec 2020 on CULearn

This last writing assignment is an essay in which you will respond to your choice from a list of questions or prompts. The suggested length is 1,200 words or more. You will be making use of the following skills from the previous assignments:

  1. Outlining passages and putting them into context
  2. Bringing out their thematic significance using quotations
  3. Recognising various passages as connected through their ideas
  4. Comparing different passages in relation to their particular perspectives on a specific theme or idea
  5. Backing up your assertions and arguments with quotations

The new aspect of this third assignment is for you to apply those skills in service of considering a specific question. You will need to consider your own response to one of the prompts, choose at least two passages which you feel are most relevant for your take on the prompt, then apply the skills from the previous writing assignments in order to demonstrate why those passages make you respond to the prompt in a particular way. For instance, if you choose the prompt, “Are gods or mortals more responsible for human suffering in the Odyssey?”, you will want to first, come up with a specific response—it does not have to be an answer of either “gods” or “mortals”; second, choose passages (say, particular stories or incidents of suffering and its causes) which tell us why you respond the way you do; and third, demonstrate the connections between your passages and your response.

A few important notes:

  1. It is an expected and good thing if, as you closely analyse your chosen passages, you find that your initial response needs to change or become more complex and nuanced. This is a sign of readinghappening—if your ideas about the poems do not change as you examine the poems more closely, then nothing will have been learnt. Let your argument change and evolve; this is how you know you are basing your argument on the poem, as opposed to making the poem fit your argument.
  2. A good way of making sure that you are reading the poems closely is to see if you can find a line or a quotation that can be evidence for every statement or assertion you make. If you can’t, that’s a good sign that you have strayed too far from the ideas of the poems themselves. For instance, in previous writing assignments, it may have been tempting to write about “heroism,” but neither the Iliador the Odyssey actually talks about heroism at all, and we would be importing our own notions of what heroism is as opposed to paying attention to what the poems think. It is very easy to import our own notions—after all, they are our notions and we can’t exactly get away from them—but one way of catching yourself doing it is to check if you can find a quotation to support every assertion. Note that this does not mean that you need to support every assertion with a quotation—only that it is healthy to make sure that you could.
  3. Pay attention to organising your essay. It would be advisable to make an outline, which should present, step-by-step, the arguments and assertions you want to make, as well as the evidence and quotations you will be using to support them. Think of your outline as an evolving document and allow it to change as your ideas develop.
  4. You are not expected to use sources outside the poems, and do not need to include a bibliography unless you do use other sources. Please indicate where your quotations come from with book and verse numbers.

Please submit only your essay in the CULearn dropbox by December 14.


Here is a list of potential questions or prompts. Some of them are specific to particular poems, others might be answered in connection to any or several of them. You can choose one of these, or come up with your own, in which case please do run it by me. For some of these, you may find further inspiration in the list of topics from the second assignment. For all of these, you can say: “a full response would be too long for the requirements of this assignment, but here is a response to a narrower aspect of the prompt.”

  • Achilles gets what he wants most in the Iliad—unwithering glory.
  • How do objects carry meaning in epic?
  • Which of the characters in one of the three epics has a perspective that is closest to that of the poet?
  • Are gods or mortals more responsible for human suffering in the Odyssey?
  • When does Achilles actually make the choice he thought he had between glory and long life?
  • What is the relation between fate and the gods?
  • Why do the gods intervene in the lives and affairs of mortals?
  • Why does the Iliaddepict on the Shield of Achilles those particular images, and what connects them to the rest of the poem?
  • Why do the suitors deserve to die in the Odyssey?
  • What is the relation between past, present, and future in one of the poems?
  • Does the Aeneidpresent Aeneas as responsible for Dido’s death?
  • Hector is the main character of the Iliad.
  • Is the Aeneidan optimistic poem?
  • Why is sex important or unimportant in epic?
  • Do the poems use similes in the same way?
  • How and why do characters talk to themselves?
  • Must events happen as they are fated?


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